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Test But Verify

by Joe Pursch on December 7th, 2017

In Mark 8, Jesus demonstrates a discipleship principle that we often forget in our “content driven” Christian culture. The crowds have been with them for three long days, listening to His teaching for hours at a time, enraptured. At one point in the chapter, Jesus appears ready to close that season of teaching and send them home, and He comes to His disciples with a challenge: these people need to be fed before they go on the long journey home.

Of course, the challenge was based on their previous experience of the feeding of the 5000 sometime earlier. Jesus presents them with an opportunity to demonstrate what they had learned from that experience. He gives them a humanly unsurmountable problem, namely the feeding of thousands of people out of thin air, but He presents them with the opportunity to go back in their mind’s eye to what He had done the first time. The response Jesus was looking for was a statement from His disciples along these lines: “Lord, it is humanly impossible to feed all these people, but we’ve seen You do it once, and we are confident that You can do it again. Lord, please be the power to answer your own request… once again miraculously feed these people. We’re even ready to carry the loaves for You.”

That would’ve been the response of faith, from instructed hearts in the power of Christ. But the disciples answer him and this challenge in the same way they answered the first one: looking only at human options and seeing none, they said that it couldn’t be done.

I see two things here about how Jesus discipled people. The first is that He tested them in order to put into action the truth about Him that He had wanted them to learn from previous encounters. He purposely set the disciples into a testing place regarding the feeding of the people a second time. In the same way, we need to realize that we need to set our own disciples into a process where we test them over what they’ve learned. After all, we don’t want people to be victorious once; we want them to be victorious in a growing pattern in their lives. So did Jesus.

The second thing I see is that in the face of the failure of His disciples to demonstrate growth, Jesus did not criticize them. The text says that He simply took over, fed the 4000 in the same way he had fed the 5000, and then He simply entered into the ship and sailed to another region to continue his ministry. At least in Mark’s account, there is no record of a rebuke or any sign of exasperation from the Lord.  (The only people that the Gospel records tell us Jesus became exasperated with were the blind but relentless Pharisees and the faithless crowds themselves at certain points) I find this to be helpful in my own relationships with people as I seek to help them grow in Christ. Too often I am tempted to give people one chance to obey Jesus in a certain factor in their life, and then, if they don’t show obedience, I label them as immature and unreliable. I may also lessen my intensity of devotion to their growth because they haven’t demonstrated obedience or visible growth after a certain period of time that I myself have set. In short, I sometimes don’t demonstrate the patience of Jesus with the growth of the soul. I have much to learn as a pastor and disciple-maker from the methods of the Master. How about you?

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